In an audio message carried by Syria’s al-Rai TV, Moammar Gadhafi addressed Libyans Thursday night threatening “a long fight” that would see their nation “engulfed in flames.” Libya’s fugitive leader vowed: “The Libyan people cannot kneel, cannot surrender. We are not women.”
The next day, my taxi rounded a city corner, and I suddenly found myself face to face with Libya’s real women.
A laughing, giggling parade of women and children was coming down a side street in the Medina. Like female pied pipers they drew more and more followers as families tumbled out of apartments and high walled compounds.
There were chic young girls in lipstick, designer sunglasses, and big smiles as they walked arm and arm. There were traditional grandmothers, taking excited grandchildren by the hand, and ululating as if they were back in the oasis.
Driving back to the Radisson Al Mahary hotel, my taxi driver patiently threaded his way around more and more knots of women and children gathering on street corners. They all were preparing to walk in the same direction.
From my 13th floor balcony in the Radisson, I saw the same phenomenon – times 100.
Stretching down the Corniche, Tripoli’s ocean side boulevard, traffic was a long, thick red smear of tail lights – four lanes wide and kilometers long. After Friday afternoon prayers, everyone going to Martyrs’ Square.
Fighters were told to stop firing their guns in the air. It was family night on the square, down in the Medina.
Singing the nation’s new anthem, tens of thousands of women and children gathered around a block long banner in the red, green and black colors of Libya’s new rebel flag.
Bounded on one side by a massive, ancient wall of the Red Fortress, the square was created during the Italian colonial period. It was then called Piazza Italia. After Independence in 1951, it was called Independence Square. After Col. Gadhafi seized power, in 1969, he renamed it Green Square, after the color of his revolution.
From a high balcony in the fortress wall, he would give radical
speeches, often containing pronouncements that would echo around the world.
But Friday night, a banner in the colors of the rebel flag hung from that iconic balcony.
The morning after, it would be common journalistic practice to report that Tripoli’s women and children turned out en mass in defiance of Moammar Gadhafi. The family night celebration took place only 24 hours after Gadhafi promised to drown the streets of Tripoli in blood.
But it would be more accurate to say that the women blew off “Brother Leader” as yesterday’s man, a blowhard out of touch with reality, sending blustering, poor quality audio tapes from a secret desert hiding place.
Libyan children may be too young to catch the finer points of their nation’s revolution. But for them, Friday night on the square was another chance to sing ditties that, to the untrained ear, sound like Arabic versions of the Munchkins singing: ‘Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is Dead.”